Working in retail and customer services

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Life in the retail sector is fun, fast and furious. There are endless career opportunities and prospects for advancement, but the competition is fierce and the work is hard. Retailing is about selling goods and services to customers. It is the UK's largest employer outside the public sector and 11% of all workers (2.7 million people) are in retailing.

Goods and services include everyday items such as groceries, petrol and newspapers, or special purchases like expensive jewellery or antiques. Some major items, such as cars and furniture, often require a financing package as well.

An important part of selling is customer service. Providing good customer service is essential to win people's loyalty and to generate repeat business.

What companies could I work for?

You could work for many different types of company. They include large supermarkets, chain or department stores, which offer a wide product range including newspapers, financial products, petrol and clothes. Smaller specialist shops have a regular customer base in a local area, selling anything from suits to wallpaper.

There are also specialist firms offering a home delivery service, farmers' markets, factory shops and shopping by catalogue. Internet and TV shopping are also becoming more and more popular.

How do I get into retailing and customer services?

You should approach your local store or write to their head office. You can start as a shelf-filler on a part-time basis, as an assistant dealing with customers, on an Apprenticeship scheme in the larger stores, or as a graduate trainee.

What about qualifications?

Retail demands intelligence, common sense and hard work. It also demands experience which can only be obtained in the market place. To support all this you must have – or be prepared to obtain – suitable qualifications. There is a wide choice from basic GCSEs/S grades to degrees, many of which can be obtained while you are working.

What about Apprenticeships in retailing?

You can work and study as an apprentice in Call Handling, Customer Service, Floristry, Procurement, Retailing, Sales and Telesales, Wholesale, Distribution and Warehousing and Storage. Apprentices learn on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money all at the same time.

There are different levels of Apprenticeship available, but they all lead to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ/SVQs), Key Skills qualifications and, in most cases, a technical certificate such as a BTEC or City & Guilds.

What opportunities are there with a degree?

The retail industry offers a wide range of graduate vacancies, with one of the highest growth rates of all employment sectors. Graduate apprenticeships and foundation degrees are available. Also, many companies offer special graduate training schemes which fast-track you to management roles.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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